It's tough to go anywhere these days without finding a sign that begs us to "like" a business on Facebook or to follow it on Twitter. Yelp stickers in front windows are more prevalent than those from the Better Business Bureau. And all we have to do to learn about a business we're thinking of patronizing is drop its name into a web search box and wait for the results.
But exactly how are businesses using the plethora of social tools to convert possibility into revenue? I came across two examples in vastly different industries. If you have a brick-and-mortar location, here are two businesses that offer tools for turning virtual relationships into concrete revenue.
Marination Mobile (Seattle)
Who said you couldn't cash tacos at the bank? Founded in early 2009, Marination Mobile is the brainchild of partners Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison. Coupling the vast success of the Los Angeles food-truck business with a wine-drenched evening, they hatched the idea for a truck-based dining experience that's gone gangbusters.
So where does social come into play? Their business plan has never been without it. "We knew that if this was ever going to be a success, we had to include the people we wanted to serve in our business plan," Saxton says. In business-planning vernacular, that means they included social web strategies in their marketing efforts four months prior to when their food truck served its first taco.
What's the secret sauce? They discovered Emily Resling, who not only had a knack for social marketing, but also understood their brand--she drives Marination's online personality in ways they could have only dreamed about. She has even developed a style guide for the brand.
Today, Marination Mobile isn't just mobile. Contrary to the traditional practice of brick-and-mortar restaurants launching food trucks, they've gone back-assward and now have opened a storefront location. In two years, they've gone from concept to two business locations, and the owners thank their audience for making that happen.
"Hey, we sell $2.25 tacos. That's not unique," Saxton says. "What's unique is the audience we've built. We have well over 10,000 eyeballs on us between Facebook and Twitter. That means we have 10,000 supervisors and managers waiting to tell us when we do something great--or when we don't."
Animal General Hospital (Port St. Lucie, Fla.)
When Dr. Enrique Borrego opened his veterinary practice in 1990, location and word-of-mouth were all a vet needed to bring in clients and their furry friends. Borrego opened his current location in 2000 to better serve his neighbors in the quiet Florida town. But in 2004, Port St. Lucie became one of the fastest-growing communities in Florida, and soon there were multiple vet practices within walking distance of his office. It was clear he had to find a way to differentiate Animal General Hospital.
He tried local magazines and the Yellow Pages, but over 18 months netted no new clients. At a loss, Borrego turned to Rich Urban, a former vet tech with a savvy set of marketing tools that could reshape the local vet practice.
"I love animals. I wanted to be a doctor, not a vaccination clinic," Borrego says. "I knew there had to be a better way to market my practice, and Rich held that key."
Urban built a client-care strategy that spanned from the moment of first interaction to long after clients had gone home from their latest appointment. Using YouTube, Facebook and e-mail marketing, the strategy has produced some astounding results. Borrego estimates he spent $27,000 over 18 months for Yellow Pages ads. In a single 18-month online campaign combining Google advertising with Facebook ads, $3,600 in spending brought in a remarkable 250 new clients and $75,000 in revenue.
The bottom line for this vet? Interaction. "Yellow Pages ads are static. Facebook and Google--those are interactive. People in this day and age demand interaction, so we've built ourselves to be an online resource for our clients," Borrego says. "Great information coupled with great care--that's why people keep coming back. That's the social part of social marketing." You can find Animal General Hospital on Facebook and YouTube, and stop in for some paws-atively great care when you're in Port St. Lucie.